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PHSA: Serving community for more than five decades

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 3:25 p.m.
Volunteers Bill Hochstein (left) and Sam Shemaka help unload a truck full of donations from four area churches at the Penn Hills Service Association. Shemaka, 82, has been volunteering with the PHSA for the past 15 years. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

Sam Shemaka of Penn Hills officially retired in 1993, but he's been pretty busy ever since.

For roughly the past 15 years, Shemaka, 82, has volunteered at the Penn Hills Service Association, a nonprofit group based in the Universal neighborhood that has been providing food, clothing and other supplies to Penn Hills residents for more than five decades.

“I wanted to do something besides become a couch potato,” Shemaka said.

“Everyone here is a volunteer, and the amazing thing is that some of them are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, and they still come and help out.”

Run by director Ed Hoover, the service association operates a daily food pantry, collects clothing and even has a convalescent aid department that loans out medical supplies such as wheelchairs and crutches.

Shemaka helps by packing food boxes every day.

Hoover estimated that the association serves between 50 and 60 families each week.

“For Christmas, in addition to the food boxes, we also give families with children a gift card so they can buy presents for Christmas,” Hoover said.

“We also have a table of donated toys, and families can pick from them, even though we don't always have the greatest selection.”

And nothing goes to waste. Unused clothing donations are sent to St. Vincent de Paul as well as a group based in West Virginia which redistributes it to needy families.

Shemaka said the work Hoover has done sets the bar for other volunteers.

“Ed inspires everybody,” he said, adding that the number of donations reminds him what a giving community Penn Hills can be.

“It overwhelms me the amount of food that local churches donate to us,” Shemaka said.

“A car pulls up and you can see how excited they are to drop if off. It's unreal how this township, when they're called on, can really step up.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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